If the proliferation of information available in today’s world leaves you feeling like you’re staring at a television set with black and white dancing static in front of you, you’re not alone. Ever since the term ‘information explosion’ was first coined, and linked to the online world, we’ve been trying to find shapes, clarity and meaning in the static. Or, at the very least, find the latest side-splitting animated gifs about the nonprofit sector. In all seriousness, as much as it can be a challenge to deal with the dancing static around us, there’s an opportunity here for many charities and nonprofits to differentiate themselves by acting as managers and organizers of information.

Content curation is nothing new. It’s a practice long associated with libraries, museums, galleries and other institutions for hundreds of years. In its current context, there are a number of definitions available about what content curation is. One of my favourites, from a marketing communications perspective, is from Content Rules, where authors Anne Handley and C.C. Chapman describe content curation as, “…the act of continually identifying, selecting and sharing the best and most relevant online content and other online resources on a specific subject to match the needs of a specific audience.”

Establish your content curation strategy

Content curation can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be for your organization. Starting off simple will allow the flexibility to experiment and refine what works best for you and your audience. However, before diving in, it’s a good idea to answer some of these questions:

What are your content curation goals? What do you hope to get out of your content curation activity? Is it to provide thought leadership, support fundraising or marketing goals, or perhaps to educate your audiences on a particular matter or topic of importance? Think about the messages you wish to convey and what calls-to-action you will want to integrate within your content curation.

Who are your existing audiences? It’s important to keep in mind who you are trying to reach and their needs. The content topics you end up choosing need to be the topics your audience cares about and will want to read.

What is your subject matter expertise? If it has been awhile, give your mission statement and strategic plans (any relevant plans you have) a quick review. This keeps your content curation aligned with your organization’s overall goals and will better match your audience’s expectations of the type of content you will share. And, your area of expertise should ideally pop out to you from the review of these documents.

When will you communicate? Consider the timing aspect;  when should you share your content. Does your audience spend time online first thing in the morning, during the day or evening? Maybe the best time to get their attention is on weekends rather than weekdays? Try to understand your audience’s online habits and deliver content to them when they are most likely to see it and be the most receptive to what you have to share.

The Imagine Canada Example

At Imagine Canada we rely on segmented audience information for our various programs, services and initiatives but for our purposes here, our core audience is charity and nonprofit professionals (paid and volunteer). They are looking for practical information, guidance, insights, resources, inspiration and opportunities to connect with peers in order to improve their organizations, and as a result, strengthen the communities they serve.

In summarizing our mission and strategic objectives, our cause is Canada’s charities and nonprofits and our three broad goals are to strengthen the sector’s collective voice, create opportunities to connect and learn from each other, and build the sector’s capacity to succeed. Our areas of expertise are strongly linked to our mission and goals and through our content curation. We connect our audiences to timely, relevant and useful information about charities and nonprofits, the environment in which they operate, and the issues that affect the sector as a whole. Meeting our audience’s needs with this information supports our brand and marketing communications objectives, creates awareness about important issues, helps to position us as thought leaders, and meets our desire to serve as a catalyst for broader discussions.

In determining what share-worthy content is, we pick information that is current and relevant to the broad spectrum of the charitable and nonprofit sector. If you follow us on social media or connect with us elsewhere, you may notice that we rarely get into detailed sub-sector issues. If we do, the information must be relatable or can be adapted to other sub-sectors in some way.

Find content to curate

There are a number of go-to sources I use to connect with and follow thought-leaders, peer organizations, sector professionals, journalists, and others:

Social media. Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and Google+ are my greatest sources of information in the social media sphere. I follow those who have similar interests. And, as a tip, I find Twitter’s list feature very helpful in grouping topic experts (note: if you don’t want other people to see your lists, you can make them private).

Traditional news and magazine outlets. A number of major news outlets may cover topics which align with your organization and audience’s interest. Follow specific journalists or certain sections. Utilize subscribe or RSS feed options to get information sent directly to your email inbox – save search time! For example, the HuffPost Impact section of Huffington Post has a “social news” box on the right side of their web page with different follow/update options.

Websites and blogs. Again, search out sources and individuals who share the same topic interests. Subscribe, follow or sign up to receive e-newsletters.

Co-workers. Don’t underestimate the value of your colleagues as sources of great information. Encourage them to share with you what they may find during their day-to-day activities.

Remember, your organization’s credibility is tied to the content you decide to share. When choosing and searching for your sources of information do a bit of vetting to ensure they have the credibility and authority worthy of your audience’s trust.

Take advantage of content curation tools

As your universe of content begins to quickly expand, there are a number of tools to help manage how you listen and share.

Listening Tools:

Media monitoring services. They can be pricey but worth it if your budgets allow for it. Look into services such as Cision, Infomart, CNW’s MediaVantage and others. Searches and alerts can be customized and these companies can provide assistance with setup.

Google Alerts. If a media monitoring service isn’t feasible, Google Alerts is an acceptable alternative. The more precise you can be with your search terms, the better your results.

Social media management dashboards. There are a number of tools that can help manage your social networks such as Hootsuite (my personal favourite), TweetDeck, SproutSocial and many others.

 Sharing Tools:

Your own communications vehicles. For example, add value to your existing e-newsletters by including curated content from other sources. In Imagine Canada’s member e-newsletter we feature highlights from our nonprofit newswire service (another internal curation tool).

Social media. The options are endless, focus on the networks that make sense to your organization and audiences. Also, many of the social media management dashboards will double as sharing tools.

Assisted publishing tools. There are a number of online tools that can be used to create customized collections of online content. Check out Storify, Flipboard’s magazine feature, Scoop.it and Paper.li, to name a few. (Note: I also find Flipboard a great listening tool.) 

The value of content curation in supporting your brand

Beth Kanter, one of the nonprofit sector’s most well-regarded social media experts, reinforces in her content curation primer that, For organizations and brands, content curation can help establish the organization’s thought leadership and capture attention in today’s information cluttered world. Content curation can help your organization become the go-to authority on an issue or topic area…”

Coming back to our dancing static television analogy, your role as content curator is to be the handyperson who fine-tunes the picture for your customers. With your ongoing help they will come to rely upon your organization as a credible and trusted information source. Your organization wins as its goals are being met. Your audience wins as their lives become a bit easier and seem a little less chaotic because, thanks to you, they are no longer staring at the static.

Marnie Grona
Marnie Grona is a marketing communications professional with a broad range of expertise in business-to-business and consumer-facing initiatives. She recently founded Social Good Marcom to help charities, nonprofits and other social good entities to shine a light on their cause. Her career has been in support of the broader charitable sector, having worked at Imagine Canada, and the business of the arts with her work for institutions such as the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra and Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre.
Marnie Grona
Marnie Grona